“When I got a wrist watch, I threw away my phone,” says Farooq Ahmad of Habson Motors, which deals in Samsung phones in Kashmir. For a few days following the abrogation of Article 370 and the communication shutdown in its wake, Farooq had been using his mobile phone to check the time. Due to months of internet shutdown, sales of high-end smartphones have gone down by 80 per cent in the Valley of eight million people. “We didn’t have phone services for several months and now we get intermittent doses of the internet. Who will buy a smartphone when you can’t access the internet?” asks Ejaz Ahmad Qureshi, who runs World Vision, a mobile phone shop on Srinagar’s Residency Road, and heads the Kashmir Cellular Phone Association. On Residency Road, there are around a dozen shops selling mobile phones and all have seen drastic reduction in sales. There is talk of switching to other businesses.
The government’s decision to restore limited internet services in Jammu and Kashmir on Republic Day brought more frustration than relief to people as internet speed was very slow and only a limited number of listed websites could be accessed. The government first blocked all mobile phone services during the day due to security reasons, and then restored phone and limited 2G internet services in the evening. This was done apparently in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment that had called access to internet a fundamental right. 2G services were snapped again in the evening of January 27 without the government citing any reason. “If snapping of phone services continue and internet is not restored fully, customers won’t go for any high-end phones. When people can use phones only to make calls, they would rather buy a low-end Noika 800, for example,” says Farooq. Qureshi says sales of Samsung phones have sunk from Rs 35 crore to Rs 3 crore. However, more people are buying low-end I-Tell phones. “These cost between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,800. I am satisfied with the sales of this phone,” says Tanzeel Manzoor of Hamza Electronics at Batmaloo, Srinagar.
The internet shutdown has also led to closure of hundreds of startups. Aegis Limited, a global business process outsourcing company, wound up its Kashmir operations recently. Established in 2010, Aegis was counted among major employment-generating firms. Its employees blame the internet shutdown for their lost jobs.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar